Gulfstream Park News & Notes
Hess-Trained Colt ‘Merits’ Shot at Besilu Stables Florida Derby
The $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby picked up a surprise candidate in Merit Man, who figures to pick up the pace for the 62th running of Gulfstream Park’s marquee race for 3-year-olds.
Trainer Bob Hess said Wednesday morning that the prospect of a short field prompted him to think about running his crack sprinter in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep. After Merit Man worked seven furlongs in 1:29 Monday morning at Gulfstream, Hess firmed up his colt’s status for the Florida Derby.
“We waited until we worked him seven-eighths. While one would say he’s probably going to be better sprinting, he worked brilliantly, finished real well and galloped out real strong,” Hess said. “I just think it’s a good time with a small field to take a shot for a lot of money. I could have run him here this weekend (in Sunday’s $70,000 Lord Avie) and made 40 grand. In this race, he’s Grade 1-placed and he makes 120 grand, and if he wins, we’re even luckier.”
Merit Man has excelled at sprint distances during his five race career. After winning his first two races, including the $100,000 Tim Conway at Santa Anita, Merit Man was nosed out of a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. The son of With Distinction returned to his winning ways in the $100,000 Spectacular Bid on New Year’s Day at Gulfstream before finishing a troubled fourth in the Hutcheson (G2) on Feb. 2.
Hess expects Merit Man to set the pace while stretching out around two turns for the first time.
“He’s not a run-off (horse) by any means. He’s a lazy, lazy, lazy horse. That’s why I’ve had the blinkers on him sprinting. But the blinkers are coming off him for this race,” said Hess, who reported that Kent Desormeaux will have the mount. “He’s not going to run off and go :44. He’ll have a good rhythm with :23, :46 and maybe 1:09, but he’ll do that easily. Hopefully, he’ll have enough genetics to hold on for the last eighth.”
Hess said he’s had a lot of success while stretching out sprinters in two-turn races for the first time.
“We’ve been very successful. Not with a closing sprinter; closing sprinters are closing sprinters. But speed sprinters in their first two-turn start will defy reality often times,” he said. “They get out there, slow down and keep going.”
Hess has no plans to put Merit Man on the Kentucky Derby trail beyond the Florida Derby.
“This is a one-time deal. Like I mentioned, the first time is a sprinter’s best route,” he said.
Smith Slated to Ride at Gulfstream This Weekend
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is scheduled to ride at Gulfstream Park this weekend before continuing on to Dubai to ride champion Royal Delta in the $10 million World Cup on March 30.
The Southern California-based Smith has ventured to Gulfstream Park twice before this season. On Jan. 19, the Hall of Fame jockey finished off the board in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic aboard Mucho Macho Man, whom he had ridden in a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in his previous start. Smith found the winner’s circle on Feb. 17 aboard Royal Delta, the two-time Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) winner, in the Sabin Stakes (G3).
Smith was named by to ride two Bill Mott-trained horses on Friday: also-eligible The Man Himself, a first-time starter, in the sixth, and Warm Hugs in the ninth.
Lezcano To Return Saturday
Jockey Jose Lezcano, who suffered a sprained ankle in a spill March 9, will return to riding Saturday, according to his agent Jason Beides.
"He's doing great," said Beides of Lezcano. "He was (at Gulfstream) working on the Equicizer and everything is set for him to ride this Saturday."
At the time of the accident, Lezcano was the fourth-leading rider with 53 victories. Luis Saez, also injured in the spill, is still recovering from a hairline fracture of the hip area.
Gulfstream Preparing For Derby Week With Golf, Poker and Parties
Gulfstream will kick off Besilu Stables Florida Derby week Tuesday, March 26 with a golf tournament at the Westin Diplomat Golf Resort. The tournament, sponsored by Matteo's Family Style Italian Restaurant, will kick off at noon with several contests and raffles, lunch and free drinks. After a slot tournament is held Wednesday, March 27 from 4-7 p.m., Gulfstream will host its Derby Poker Tournament Thursday, March 28. On Friday evening, Gulfstream will host its Cocktails and Horse Tales Florida Derby Party. A minimum $10 donation will go to Florida Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care Program (TRAC).